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Recap / Doctor Who S14 E1 "The Masque of Mandragora"

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The Doctor: Humans have got such limited little minds. I don't know why I like you so much.
Sarah Jane Smith: Because you have such good taste.
The Doctor: That's true. That's very true.

The One With… the evil spotlight... in the Village!

Written by Louis Marks. This four-episode serial first aired from September 4—25, 1976.

The Doctor is giving Sarah Jane a tour of the TARDIS and they come across a fabulously wonderful new console room, in which they decide to stay. The TARDIS then pitches up in Renaissance Italy (well, all right, in Portmeirion), having had an encounter en route with a fizzy ball of energy that the Doctor calls the Mandragora Helix. He hasn't realised that he's brought it with him (since he rather stupidly left the door open), and when it escapes from the TARDIS and begins taking over or killing the locals, he follows.

The energy finds an underground temple and takes over the Cult of Demnos, which is led by court astrologer Hieronymous. It instructs them to prepare the way for Mandragora's full appearance. However, the astrologer himself is a pawn in political intrigues between Count Federico and his nephew, Duke Giuliano. Giuliano has just acceded to the Duchy of San Martino (after the last Duke rather mysteriously came down with a case of death) and a grand Masque will be held in honour. Giuliano and his companion Marco hope to prove that Hieronymous is a charlatan. Meanwhile, the Doctor is sidetracked by almost being executed and steals a few horses, and Sarah Jane is kidnapped and hypnotized by the cult.

During the dance, the Cult of Demnos attack the court and kill many, while Hieronymous — now unified with the Mandragora Helix — confronts the Doctor in the underground temple. Attempting to blast the Doctor with pure Mandragora energy, he is foiled when the Doctor reveals he has earthed both himself (with some iron armour) and the altar: the energy is drained off and the Earth is safe.

Also, Sarah becomes the first companion to question how come she can understand and be understood when the locals must all be speaking Italian. The Doctor says it's a "Time Lord gift", and it's later explained that it's done telepathically via the TARDIS.


  • All Prophecies Are True: Hieronymous predicts the death of the previous ruler with uncanny accuracy. And so he should, as Federico has poisoned him. When Federico decides that it's Giuliano's time to go, he orders Hieronymous to make another death prediction, mocking the astrologer when he insists his prognostications are real. His cult is able to accurately predict Sarah Jane Smith turning up, so it's implied they do have some ability, presumably assisted by Mandragora.
  • And Your Reward Is Edible: The Doctor gets a large salami in reward for his help.
  • Animal Motifs: The Fourth Doctor is associated with the lion, with a nice scene of him making the 'rampant' pose from heraldry while wearing a lion mask. He has a mane of hair, a powerful deep 'roaring' voice, big teeth and plenty of regal charisma. There may also be an allusion to his Britishness - a lion appears on the British Royal Family's crest, and the Doctor's line while playing the lion is Remember the French at Agincourt! (a battle they lost to the English).
  • Armour Is Useless: Averted; the Doctor dons a suit of armour under his clothes to channel Hieronymous's Hand Blast via a wire attached to it. In the novelisation the wire melts from the energy pouring through it, forcing the Doctor to absorb the final blast unaided.
  • Author Appeal: Louis Marks had been an academic historian before he became a writer. His specialist subject? Renaissance Italy.
  • Artistic Licence – History: Giuliano explains to Sarah his theory that the world is in fact round and not flat and that other scientists have started to accept this theory, repeating the common historical misconception that people living before 1492 thought the world was flat.
  • Astrologer: Hieronymous; a foil for the scientific Doctor (despite them both having awful fashion sense, and a tendency to hamminess and speaking gobbledygook).
  • Beard of Evil: Hieronymous has a glorious beard.
  • Believing Their Own Lies: Federico scoffs at Hieronymous for this, but it's implied that Mandragora has been feeding Hieronymous visions to manipulate him.
  • Big Bad Ensemble: The Mandragora Helix is the greatest threat but remains manipulating events in the background for the first three episodes, meaning the more direct threat is from Disc-One Final Boss Count Federico until Mandragora's servants kill him at the end of Part Three.
  • Big Damn Heroes: The Doctor slips Sarah off the sacrificial stone just as the knife descends.
  • Black Cloak: The cultists wear these, but Hieronymous opts for the purple pimp cloak and gold bling medallion seen in the image above.
  • The Blank: Hieronymous, after absorbing the Mandragora Helix. Federico gets a nasty shock when he rips off his mask, as does Sarah when a cultist wearing the Doctor's lion mask removes it at the masked ball.
    The Doctor: Let's say Hieronymous gave him a blank look.
  • Bloodless Carnage: Giuliano and Federico both get wounded in swordfights, but there's not a drop of blood in sight. In Giuliano's case the Doctor even says he has to bandage him to stop the bleeding.
  • Blue Blood: Duke Giuliano, and his Evil Uncle Count Federico.
  • But Now I Must Go: Duke Giuliano asks the Doctor to stay as his scientific advisor (hasn't that happened before?) but the Doctor, knowing that humanity will work things out for themselves, has no problem moving on.
  • Bound and Gagged: Sarah Jane.
  • Brainwashed and Crazy: Sarah Jane has an unsettling smile on her face while sneaking up on the Doctor with a poisoned needle.
  • Chaos Architecture: When Sarah wants to know how big the TARDIS is, the Doctor's Non-Answer implies this trope.
    Sarah: Just how big is the Tardis?
    The Doctor: Well, how big's big? Relative dimensions, you see. No constant.
    Sarah: That's not an answer.
    The Doctor: How big are you at the moment?
    Sarah: Five four, just...and that's still not an answer.
    The Doctor: Listen, listen. There are no measurements in infinity.
  • The Chosen One: Invoked by the Helix, who tell Hieronymous that he has been chosen to be Supreme Ruler of the Earth. However he's just their Unwitting Pawn.
  • Chromosome Casting: Sarah is the only female character in the story apart from some non-speaking masque attendees.
  • Contrived Coincidence: While escaping from his would-be executors, the Doctor enters the supposedly endless catacombs beneath the city and stumbles across the underground temple where the Cult of Demnos are about to sacrifice Sarah.
  • Cool Mask: The cultists' gilded masks, especially the one Hieronymous wears. When the Doctor examines it, he identifies the mask as "Predeluvian sandstone with a complex circuit of base metal fused into it."
  • Continuity Nod: In the console room, the Doctor dusts with a frilly white undershirt like those worn by the Third Doctor, and Sarah picks up a recorder like the one played by the Second Doctor.
  • Cult: The Cult of Demnos. It's even baked into the name!
  • Costumer: Sarah Jane gets to dress up for a "smashing" ball.
  • Damsel in Distress: Three guesses who, given there's only one damsel in the entirety of the main cast (excluding dancers at the Masque).
  • Distinction Without a Difference: When Sarah wants to know if the Doctor's plan will be dangerous, he replies, "Only if I guess wrong, and then it's fatal." Sarah is not impressed by the flip answer.
  • Do Not Taunt Cthulhu: The Doctor leans casually against the altar stone in the Temple of Demnos while playing with his yo-yo. Even though he's been absorbed by the Helix by this point, Hieronymous is not amused.
    Hieronymous: You!...profane the sacred stone.
    Doctor: Hello there. Had a hard day in the catacombs, have you?
    Doctor: Oh, come off it, Hieronymous. You know who I am. You can drop all that bosh about sacred stones and profanity. Just be your natural horrid self.
  • Dramatic Unmask
    • The Reveal that the leader of the Cult of Demnos is Hieronymous.
    • The most dramatic unmasking comes when Federico tears off Hieronymous's mask only to find he's become The Blank.
    • Then a man wearing the Doctor's lion mask turns up at the masquerade. When Sarah tries to speak to him, he removes the mask to reveal he's also a glowing energy being.
    • Finally after the Cult is reduced to Empty Piles of Clothing, Hieronymous removes his mask and does a Face-Revealing Turn to show he's actually the Doctor in disguise.
  • Dressing as the Enemy: The Doctor tries to drain the energy of the possessed Hieronymous by goading Hieronymous into attacking him. Both parties are weakened, but before a Commercial Break Cliffhanger Hieronymous is shown calling on Mandragora to aid him. We then cut to the masked ball where Sarah sees a man walking around in the lion mask and thinks he's the Doctor, until a Dramatic Unmask reveals The Blank face of the Brethren, making it look like the Doctor lost. Other Brethren start throwing off their costumes and shooting energy bolts at the guests, until a masked and robed Hieronymous appears and puts a stop to it, ordering the survivors be brought to the temple for a proper Human Sacrifice. Turns out it's the Doctor imitating Hieronymous's voice so he can lure his followers into the same fate he inflicted on their leader.
  • Energy Beings: The Mandragora Helix. However, once the Helix that's come to Earth spreads its power among the Brethren of the Cult of Demnos, the Doctor realises it's vulnerable if he can trick them into fully draining their power.
  • Establishing Character Moment: Count Federico is introduced slaughtering some peasants to Make an Example of Them for allegedly plotting insurrection. Whether they were is another question; his nephew sarcastically implies he was just doing it for sport.
  • Evil Is Hammy: Oh, Hieronymous...
  • Evil Laugh: The Helix does this, often when there is no other sign of its presence.
  • Exposition of Immortality: The Doctor was taught swordfighting by the captain of Cleopatra's bodyguard, and wonders if his bandage would pass the scrutiny of Florence Nightingale.
  • Handwave: The reason why everyone speaks Eternal English is explained as a Time Lord gift that the Doctor passes on to his companions. Apparently without their knowledge, which the Doctor is called out on in the New series.
  • Heterosexual Life-Partners: Giuliano and Marco, although the "heterosexual" is seriously debatable. (There is a suggestion that Giuliano finds Sarah attractive, especially in the novelisation, but it's easy to miss.)
  • Humans Are Special: The Mandragora Helix wants to conquer Earth because they believe that the Constantly Curious nature of the human race will cause them to spread beyond their own galaxy and challenge their power. The Doctor fears that a takeover will turn mankind into "idle sheep" who are only interested in their next meal.
  • Idiot Ball: The Doctor realises that Sarah is Not Herself just because she chooses this moment to ask how she's able to speak whatever language the locals are using, which she's apparently never done before, despite her being a nosy female journalist. Companions in New Who will be more curious on the subject.
  • Inadvertent Entrance Cue: Guiliano is holding off Count Federico's soldiers single-handed.
    Giuliano: Go on, for you'll need an army to do your work!
    Count Federico: Oh, you craven-gutted curs! He's but one man.
    (The Doctor runs out of the catacombs brandishing a sword, making it two.)
  • In the Past, Everyone Will Be Famous: Averted; the Doctor has hopes of meeting Leonardo da Vinci, but doesn't have the time. Which is just as well, as he'd have had to explain that his submarine design was impractical.
  • Kidnapped by an Ally: The Doctor and Sarah are arrested by pikemen, but fortunately they are working for the Duke instead of his uncle; Giuliano having decided that the Doctor might be a useful ally against the latter.
  • Know When to Fold Them: When the Doctor brings word that Count Federico is dead, Captain Rossini orders his men to Seize Them!, only to find they've changed their allegiance to the only other nobleman available. So Rossini surrenders his sword to Duke Giuliano, who fortunately is too merciful to have him executed on the spot.
  • Land in the Saddle: The Doctor jumps from the execution platform onto one of the guards' horses, shoves that guard out of the saddle, and takes off galloping.
  • Locked in the Dungeon: First Marco is locked in the dungeon; later on the Doctor, Sarah Jane and Giuliano join in on the fun.
  • Long Game: The Doctor thinks the Mandragora Helix has been planning this for centuries. Given that they are worried a future galaxy-spanning humanity might challenge them they really do think in the long term, and we're told to expect another attempted invasion half a millennia later.
  • Malevolent Masked Men: The Cult of Demnos.
  • Manchurian Agent: Sarah Jane is drugged and hypnotized by Hieronymous into trying to kill the Doctor. Fortunately the Doctor realises what's happening.
  • Masquerade Ball: In Part Four, the Cult of Demnos takes advantage of Giuliano's swanky ascension party to conceal themselves amidst the other guests.
  • Never Split the Party: Sarah wanders off to scrump oranges from a nearby grove, only to be abducted by the Cult of Demnos. Then while Duke Giuliano is holding off his attackers she runs to warn the Doctor, only to be grabbed by the Cult a second time.
  • Nice Job Breaking It, Hero: The Mandragora Helix uses the TARDIS to bring part of itself to Earth.
  • Nice Job Fixing It, Villain: While a hypnotised Sarah is sneaking up behind the Doctor to stab him in the back with a poisoned needle, Hieronymous calls on her to "Strike him down!", alerting the Doctor that she's there. Though the Doctor clearly knows she's following him earlier, so it's likely he already knew.
  • Nothing Can Stop Us Now!: Federico after The Doctor, Sarah, Giuliano and Marco are all in his dungeon. He regards Hieronymous as a fraud, so has no idea the man is a threat despite him being the only one who hasn't been captured.
  • Off with His Head!: The Doctor finds himself with his neck on the executioner's block in one cliffhanger.
  • Out-of-Character Alert: The Doctor knows Sarah has been taken over... because she's the first companion to ask how come she can understand people who speak other languages.
  • Rearing Horse: Weaponized when the Doctor startles them with a football fan's rattle. After tipping off its rider, the horse is then (briefly) stolen by the Doctor.
  • Reasonable Authority Figure: Duke Giuliano, and apparently his late father as well.
  • Rebuilt Set: The serial introduces a Victorian-style "secondary control room" for the TARDIS, based around wooden panelling and copper metalwork, which managed to be totally Steampunk a good twenty years before the first stirrings of the movement. This tied into the "Hammer Horror" theme of the period. It was used for the whole of the season, but was unfortunately damaged beyond repair in storage afterwards, leading to a return to the old set.
  • Revolutionaries Who Don't Do Anything: Count Federico is introduced putting a band of ostensibly rebellious peasants to the sword. Said peasants don't appear to be doing anything other than transporting a cart full of hay, so if they really were rebels rather than people Federico killed just because he felt like killing someone and declared to be rebels to justify it, they weren't very active about it.
  • Royally Screwed Up: Count Federico. He has Giuliano's father killed to bring him one step closer to becoming the Duke of San Martino. Then he tries to have Giuliano assassinated and (when that doesn't work) framed as a pagan member of the Cult of Demnos.
  • Secret Circle of Secrets: The Cult of Demnos is an ancient Roman sect that supposedly died out centuries before. For some reason (possibly the influence of Mandragora) it has survived in San Martino.
  • Seize Them!: We get three of these in this serial alone.
  • Sequel Hook: The story ends with the Doctor revealing that the astronomical alignment that allowed Mandragora to attack Earth will recur towards the end of the twentieth century. This was not pursued in TV continuity, though several Expanded Universe continuities have picked it up.
  • Smoke Out: The Doctor appears in a puff of smoke by popping up from behind Hieronymous's cauldron while he's casting an incantation.
  • Smug Snake: Both Federico and Hieronymous are arrogant would-be tyrants, but both are also convinced that they have more control over the situation than they do. Federico is so consumed with his schemes to overthrow his nephew that he ignores the real threat (the Cult of Demnos and the Helix) until it's too late; similarly, Hieronymous is a deluded fraud trapped by superstition and seduced by dreams of glory who ends up utterly consumed by the Helix.
  • The Starscream: Federico thinks Hieronymous is his loyal (but despised) underling. Hieronymous has other ideas though his goals are a lot larger than a mere dukedom.
  • Stepford Smiler: When the Doctor starts clowning around in the lion mask, Sarah is not amused. "The worse the situation, the worse your jokes get!" She then realises that things really are bad, which the Doctor acknowledges. Ironically Sarah proves just as flippant while being held prisoner in the dungeon.
  • Swirly Energy Thingy: The Helix itself.
    Sarah: What's the Mandragora Helix?
    The Doctor: It's a spiral of pure energy that radiates outwards in ways no one understands, though at its centre there's a controlling intelligence.
  • Sword Fight: The Doctor might not like guns but has no issue carrying a sword when the Duke offers him one. On seeing the Duke desperately fighting off Federico's men, he gleefully joins in.
  • Targeted Human Sacrifice: Sarah Jane, who was apparently predicted to turn up, is nearly sacrificed by the Cult of Demnos.
  • Temple of Doom: While the Doctor is exploring the catacombs, he's sees a vision of the ancient Roman temple of Demnos restored and hears the Helix's Evil Laugh.
  • This Is Something He's Got to Do Himself: The Doctor insists on entering the temple of Demnos alone, without his companion with him, a sign either of how seriously he takes the threat or how low he rates his chances of survival.
  • Time-Travelers Are Spies: The peasants are restless and Count Federico thinks that foreign spies are riling them up (it wouldn't have anything to do with his tyrannical behaviour, of course). A strangely-dressed outsider who causes trouble the moment his guards try to question him fits the bill perfectly.
  • Torture Always Works: Marco holds out a long while, but later admits to Giuliano he was forced to make a false confession.
  • Total Eclipse of the Plot: When Mandragora swallows the Moon!
  • Tranquil Fury: On seeing men in black cloaks carrying off his unconscious companion, the Doctor calmly but firmly tells them to stop, then judo-flips the first man who tries to lay hands on him. He then tells the others to "put the girl down, gently." They comply, but one of the Brethren sneaks up from behind the Doctor and and knocks him out with a rock to the head.
  • Trrrilling Rrrs: "Hieronymous! You trrrrrrrraitor"!
  • Unnecessarily Large Interior: Sarah Jane stumbles upon the Doctor's "boot cupboard", a massive room which has one pair of boots in it. When Sarah points out how absurdly large it is, the Doctor replies, "I've seen bigger boot cupboards." To add even more insult to injury, green carpet, part of a fireplace and a portrait on the wall can be seen through the door. Evidently, it's meant be to be a living room, but the Doctor decided to put shoes in it instead.
  • Unwilling Suspension: Marco is hung by his wrists while he's being tortured.
  • Villainous Rescue
    • The Doctor is rescuing Sarah when he's spotted by the Cult of Demnos, who are about to Seize Them! when the Helix turns up in their midst. Naturally they assume this is their god who's finally responded to their prayers, and proceed to worship it while the Doctor and Sarah sneak away.
    • On hearing that his nephew and the Doctor have gone to explore the ancient temple of Demnos, Federico decides to kill them off and blame their deaths on the notorious cult. However in the midst of this assassination attempt, the Brethren attack en masse and drive his men off. Hieronymous explains that it isn't in their interest for the Duke to die at that moment, as they want the masque to go ahead. Duke Giuliano has invited many nobles and men of learning who can be taken out in a Decapitation Strike to demonstrate their power.
  • Voice Changeling: The Doctor alters his voice to sound like that of Heironymous as part of his disguise. Notable in that it wasn’t a case of Same Language Dub, but simply Tom Baker doing a dead-on impersonation of Norman Jones.
  • What the Hell Are You?: When giving a "You!" Exclamation, Hieronymous then asks "What are you?" having been told by his voices that the Doctor has come from the stars. Once absorbed by the Helix, he openly refers to the Doctor as a Time Lord.
  • When the Planets Align: Hieronymous invokes this, and there's likely some truth in it as the Doctor at the end of the episode says that the constellation the Mandragora Helix is in will be in the right position for another attempt in 500 years.
  • Why Don't You Just Shoot Him?: Averted; Federico thinks the Doctor is a spy (and is certainly a troublemaker) so orders he be taken out and executed. The Doctor escapes by tripping up the executioner with his scarf and riding off on a nearby horse.
  • What Year Is This?: The Doctor works out when and where he is from a glass vase he finds lying around.
  • The Wise Prince: Giuliano.
  • The X of Y
  • You Have to Believe Me!: Subverted; the Doctor does try to explain things in terms the locals will understand ("A ball of heavenly fire has come down to Earth, and I must return it to the stars!") after everyone laughs at his first attempt, while Count Federico thinks he's a fraud posing as a sorcerer and brings in Hieronymous to debate with him. As the Doctor thinks Hieronymous is a fraud in turn, things don't go well.


Video Example(s):


Hypnotising Sarah

Hieronymous hypnotises Sarah with instructions to kill the Doctor.

How well does it match the trope?

4.86 (7 votes)

Example of:

Main / HypnotizeTheCaptive

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